Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Before Worrying About The Latest "Epidemic", Consider the Following...

Ebola. Measles. SARS. H1N1. The media has no end to diseases that they want you to panic about. Add to that to freak out about the small possibility of something like post-earthquake radiation leakage from Japan and people's fears about an apocalyptic crisis (like government takeover, economic implosion, Armageddon...) and you have a population in a near constant state of anxiety over some crisis.

But after completing my first class in my Masters in Public Health, here are my thoughts...

Heart disease, cancer and accidents are more likely to kill you. More likely than what? More likely than just about everything. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. 589,430 estimated cancer deaths occurred in 2015. (Around 2,000 of these deaths were children.) 130,557 people died of accidents in 2013. OK, let's put a few things in perspective...

The number of people in the United States who died from ebola (as of March 2015) is two. Remember the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) scare in 2002-2003? Eight cases in the United States were confirmed and none died. Hitting a little closer to home on a hot button topic, remember the panic about measles? Roughly one person has died each year of measles since 2000, most of which were immunocompromised individuals in their 30's. By comparison, before the measles vaccine was introduced, about 450 deaths annually were attributed to measles.  Now, H1N1 is a hornets' nest, but I'll wade in anyway for comparison's sake on both sides. According to the CDC, 12,469 American deaths were caused by H1N1 influenza during the global pandemic of 2009. (Which is interesting because initial numbers from the CDC claimed 36,000.) However, several people in the medical, public health and statistics fields have questioned these numbers because of liberal inclusion of deaths that were the result of secondary complications of the flu. (For example, a person who is in poor health from an underlying heart condition becomes sick with the flu, it exacerbates their condition and results in death. Or someone develops the flu, but the infection moves into the lungs developing into viral pneumonia.) Some estimates place the actual H1N1 flu death numbers at 500 for the flu season.

You and your loved ones are much, much, much more likely to die of heart disease, cancer or an accident than the latest media crisis disease.

It's a lot easier to panic about something that isn't happening to you at the moment and is unlikely to actually take place. It distracts from dealing from the actual threats in our lives. Whatever, exotic, rare, blast from the past disease or rare crisis you have heard about, remember that it's probably pretty unlikely to happen. Eat healthy, take preventative measures against cancer, and practice safety precautions. It's a lot better use of your time and effort than worrying about ebola.


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